by Rach Thorn
Recently I had a phone consultation with a psychologist who is assessing me for Asperger Syndrome. Not content with discovering my enbyness well into my forties, I decided to embark on a quest to resolve my lifelong feeling of not fitting in. Anyway, when she tells me it’s going to be a long wait – up to a year – I enquire whether I might be able to access any support services. She assures me that I shouldn’t need full diagnosis to join a group and says she’ll send out some info.
What I receive is: a flyer for one service “for adults who have a diagnosis of Autism” and another, “for adults who identify as female”. I had told her I’m non binary. Throughout her report, she refers to me as RachEL not Rach and uses female pronouns.
I know pronouns are hard. I find it hard. Especially when I’ve known someone a long time as one gender and then learn that they identify differently. We are conditioned to gender on sight, aren’t we? And I do acknowledge that it’s harder for my generation. That’s one reason I wouldn’t dream of asking my family to start using they/them/their. But this is a health care professional. In MENTAL HEALTH. And really, in print, there’s no excuse.
I’ve known some online forms to literally only give 2 options for gender. It’s paralysing. Hovering over those two alien concepts. It’s almost worse when they add a third, ‘prefer not to say’ choice. As though anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into one of the binary options should be embarrassed about it; as if it’s something we must want to hide. No, I DON’T ‘prefer not to say’; I prefer to have my enbyness recognised. I prefer to SAY and not be silenced. And don’t get me started on the classic ‘other’ option. It’s been used to push people of colour further to the margins, so why not apply it to the queer community? What exactly are we ‘other’ to? What’s normal … what’s acceptable … what’s right?
Then there’s the other extreme. I’ve known forms to list dozens of titles, from Brigadier, to Colonel; Lieutenant to Professor; Doctor to Reverend. The first time I saw Ven, I felt a little giddy. Is this some gender neutral term I’ve not heard of? Alas, Google says no. Ven is for Venerable, as in the Venerable Bede. I have to admit, I’m tempted. But in the end I plump for Dr. instead. It’s only an order of hoover bags from PC World. What are they gonna do? Report me for impersonating a medical professional? Surely, if you’re gonna get this specific – you can give ONE neutral option. I mean there must be more of us with queer identities than Venerables in this world. Have you ever met a real life saint?
Why do we even need titles anyway? Why do I need to disclose my marital status to buy hoover bags? It wouldn’t be so bad, but I’m a teacher. Unless your school is super progressive (and mine definitely is not) you are one of two things: a sir or a miss. Not just to the kids either. When staff pass on corridors, it’s all ‘morning Miss’ or ‘hi Sir’; the titles are used in meetings and assemblies. And yes, I know I could switch to Mx. But our head still can’t get his head around LGBT – it’s LBGT or LTBG or, well, you know what I mean! And this is the profession that has more abbreviations than Elsevier’s Dictionary Of Acronyms.
I have started to drop the title from my emails now; I’m just plain old Thorn to the students or R Thorn to parents. And the students have taken to it; probably because it allows them to break with a little of the formality that can feel so restrictive. If I had to come up with an alternative, I’d suggest This to replace Miss. This Thorn qualifies me, singles ME out from the crowd; Miss on the other hand, well it disqualifies. Just compare it to Sir: Sir smacks of power and authority; Miss connotes to mis-takes, mis-fortune, mis-placed. Or mis-understood. And that’s how I feel every time I hear it.